Discussion Mid 2019 New Gaming CPU Buying Guide

rigg42

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Oct 17, 2018
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The goal of this guide is provide information to those contemplating a new PC build or platform upgrade in mid-2019. I’ll be outlining the things you should consider to maximize the value and longevity of a new PC build or platform upgrade. I’ll also be attempting to clear up a few misconceptions and offer a bit of buying, parts configuration, and setup advice.

Ryzen 3000 (Zen 2) announcements are likely coming at the end of the May 2019 at Computex. Depending how good the new CPUs are this will likely significantly affect the CPU market in the coming months. Speculation has Zen 2 being available from retailers in early July. Assuming the announcement comes at the end of May (with specs and pricing) this could immediately affect AMD Ryzen 1st/2nd gen and Intel 8th/9th gen pricing. Budget conscience gamers should be extremely careful CPU shopping in the coming months.



Should I buy Intel or AMD for my gaming rig?


It depends.

Intel currently offers superior IPC (instructions per clock) when compared on a core for core, thread for thread, and Clock for Clock basis in the vast majority of video games. It also achieves significantly higher clock speeds and has better single threaded performance than current AMD CPUs. In other words, if you took an Intel CPU and an AMD CPU with the same amount of cores and threads, set them to the same clock, fed them a gaming load that isn’t restricted by the GPU, the Intel CPU will give you more FPS. Combine this with superior clock speed and you can see why Intel is generally considered a better pure gaming platform. That being said you can only make this claim if cost, value, and longevity considerations are thrown out the window.

https://www.techspot.com/article/1616-4ghz-ryzen-2nd-gen-vs-core-8th-gen/

At this time Intel has no plans to move on from 14nm on consumer desktop platforms in the near future. There is a rumored 10c/20t CPU in the works. They are also releasing new 9th gen CPUs. I3 gets turbo boost, i5/i7/i9 get locked CPUs with higher max turbos. They will also be offering more unlocked chips without integrated graphics. You should not expect significant performance or core and thread increases in the foreseeable future. Intel has moved away from hyper-threading in all but the i9 in its 9th gen consumer I series desktop lineup.

https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-9th-gen-desktop-cpu-coffee-lake,39138.html

AMD is currently significantly less expensive for core and thread comparable CPU’s and generally will provide better all-around performance. The extra cores and threads generally offer more headroom for background and secondary tasks while gaming in contrast to its price comparable Intel counterparts. It can offer superior IPC in some highly multithreaded workloads. Upcoming Ryzen 3000 (Zen 2) is rumored to close the gap in IPC and possibly surpass it. It’s also rumored to increase clock speed as much as 800 mhz over Zen + and double core/thread counts (3x threads in some instances) for the same price as its current intel counterparts. Achieving all of these lofty goals is probably unlikely. It is possible though. We will hopefully know more at the end of May 2019. Specs will likely be officially announced at that time.

There will be some measure of performance increase and the core/thread increases are essentially already confirmed. We know 16 core chips are in the wild. Clock speeds are reaching 4.2 -4.5 ghz on various engineering samples. It’s difficult to know how close to final clock speeds these samples are. Some 1st gen Ryzen engineering samples were 700 mhz lower than final retail silicon was capable of. How recent the engineering samples are, and whether or not those speeds are all core boost or single core boost is uncertain. Power efficiency looks to be excellent on the new chips. At CES a an 8c/16t Zen 2 engineering sample (running at unknown clock speed) beat a stock 9900k (4.7 ghz) in cinebench r15 multi-core. It also used significantly less power. AMD CEO Lisa Su noted the chip was “not running final clock speed”. This indicates that at he very least a mid-range 65 watt 8c/16t Zen 2 CPU can likely reach parity with a stock 9900k in muti-core performance while using lower clocks and consuming less power.

https://www.tomshardware.com/news/amd-ryzen-3000-everything-we-know,38233.html

You should also be aware of hardware level security vulnerabilities from both platforms. This is generally thought to be a more serious concern on the Intel platform.

https://meltdownattack.com/

https://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-disable-hyper-threading-spectre-attack,39333.html

What do I need to consider before deciding what CPU is for me?

Before contemplating a CPU purchase the first thing you need to determine is what resolution and frame rate you want to play your games at. Go look up benchmarks for the games you want to play and decide what type of GPU and Monitor you need to buy to achieve your desired results. At minimum 1080p 60 fps should be the goal. Start budgeting your build with the GPU and monitor before deciding what CPU will serve you best. This will highly impact your CPU buying decision.

What is Bottlenecking?

The first thing you should understand is there is always a bottleneck. Either the CPU or The GPU will be bottlenecking its counterpart. If the GPU is a bottleneck it won't really matter which brand of CPU you choose. Unless your goal is high frame rate 1080p the GPU is likely to be the limitation and not the CPU in a lot of games. Even in this specific scenario you'll be pushing framerates so high the extra frames an Intel CPU gives you will be nearly impossible to notice for most people. If you’re into fast shooters and E-Sports games Intel is currently a better bet. In general when using 1440p (Ultra settings) anything but a 1080 ti, 2080, or Radeon VII the GPU will tend to be the limitation and not the CPU. In most modern games at 1440p and ultra-settings, even those GPU’s will be completely or partially bottlenecking the CPU in modern AAA titles. In this scenario you will see very little if any FPS advantage with an Intel CPU over an AMD. Any current GPU will be a bottleneck at 4k with the possible exception of the 2080 ti and RTX Titan. The CPU will be nearly irrelevant at 4k in most scenarios. In other words, if your GPU is being fully or nearly fully utilized the CPU won’t matter nearly as much. If you are running a combination of resolution and graphics quality settings that doesn’t fully utilize the GPU the burden is shifted to the CPU. Current Intel CPUs will give you higher FPS than current AMD CPUs in these specific scenarios. Just be aware that Ryzen 3000 could possibly represent a paradigm shift in this regard moving forward.

Another school of thought is to buy a faster CPU now and upgrade GPU’s every couple of years. In other words even if that faster CPU doesn’t benefit your current GPU it may benefit a faster GPU down the road. Both are valid approaches. I personally think the GPU should take priority but YMMV.



Is average frame rate the only performance metric I should care about?


No. Maintaining consistent frame times can arguably be more impactful to the end user experience. Frame rate is how many frames are rendered per second. Frame time is how long (measured in milliseconds) each frame takes to render. Lower thread count chips can be at a disadvantage in certain titles in this respect.

https://techreport.com/review/31546/where-minimum-fps-figures-mislead-frame-time-analysis-shines



Should I buy right now?

In my opinion the answer is no. Wait until we hear what Ryzen 3000 brings unless your livelihood depends on buying a CPU right now. The likelihood that current Ryzen CPUs will plummet in price in the coming months is a virtual certainty. This might also cause a shakeup in Intel pricing if they lose their gaming advantage. The new CPU’s could also offer amazing performance per dollar but will probably be launched at bit higher price until the old inventory gets flushed out.

I don’t care about all this crap. My PC sucks and I just want to build right now damn it!

Fair enough. It’s your money. Spend it how you see fit. If you must build now I suggest you plan ahead for future upgrades. Buying a better motherboard, GPU, RAM, SSD, PSU ext. now and saving some money on the CPU might be a good idea.



Intel buyers:

If you choose 8th or 9th gen Intel you can pretty much buy the best CPU you can afford. There is nothing world beating from Intel on the horizon. Avoid the i3 completely. The value proposition on these parts is non existent. The 9400f or 8400 is the bottom of stack in 2019 for gaming IMO. The 6c/6t i5s might even struggle in the not so distant future. Next gen Xbox and PS will be running Ryzen. AAA titles will likely be better optimized for multi-threaded in the not so distant future. 6c/6t should be fine for quite a while though. Probably several years. Just be aware that games are already using up to 8 threads. Trying to do anything in the background while gaming with these CPUs could possibly be a limitation.

The only motherboard chipsets that most people should consider are b360/b365 or z370/z390. Be aware of mixing the older chipsets with 9th gen CPUs. They will require an 8th gen chip or USB bios flash button to work with a 9th gen CPU unless they are shipped with an updated bios. The 8th and 9th gen CPUs are compatible with all 4 chipsets assuming you flash the bios for compatibility between b360/z370 and 9th gen. Buying a mid-range z390/z370 board and fast ram might be worthwhile even with a non K CPU. You can get a pretty reasonable performance increase with faster RAM speeds unavailable on the other Intel chipsets. This also gives you a a better upgrade path to an unlocked chip if you buy a locked CPU now. The z370/z390 motherboards are required to overclock the unlocked K CPUs. If you take this approach, be wary of the VRM quality of the motherboard. This is especially true if you think you might step up to an 8 core (or possibly the rumored 10 core assuming its compatible) down the road. All of the Gigabyte Aorus z390 boards have excellent VRMs and are reasonably priced compared to other boards with this caliber of power delivery. I’m not sure anything else will offer this type a value in this respect. Either way do your research on features and power delivery when shopping for an Intel motherboard. The CPUs tend to be power hungry and hard on the VRMs in some cases.

Stock coolers are only provided with locked CPUs. They are noisy and offer terrible cooling capability. I recommend replacing them in all circumstances. A $30 air cooler is fine for stock speeds on anything but the 8 cores. Plan to spend $80-150 for a good liquid AIO or top notch air cooler to overclock the 6 and 8 core parts. Factor this into your budget. These chips run very hot. The 9900k is hot and power hungry in particular. Top notch cooling is required to reach stock all core turbo (4.7 ghz) with the 9900k under heavy loads with reasonable temps.

When running any Intel CPU on stock settings the motherboard may limit turbo to maintain the TDP rating of the CPU. This will potentially mean the CPU will only operate at base frequency where it would otherwise stay locked at max all core turbo (temps permitting) when heavily loaded. The max all core turbo is typically 300 mhz less than the stated max turbo. The specked max turbo is single core only. You need to adjust this TDP limitation by unlocking power and turbo duration limits in the bios on certain motherboards for maximum gaming performance.

https://www.anandtech.com/show/13544/why-intel-processors-draw-more-power-than-expected-tdp-turbo



AMD Buyers:

AMD offers a nice upgrade path and plenty of good affordable options right now. AM4 will be supported through 2020. Many current AM4 motherboards will be able to run the upcoming Ryzen 3000 CPUs. There are also many current mid-range boards that can handle at least an overclocked 8 core. B450 and X470 are your main considerations. Flagship x370 boards can also be a great value. Avoid everything else. Be conscious of compatibility concerns with second gen Ryzen and the older boards. You’ll need a first gen CPU (AMD will ship a loaner for free) or a USB flash button to upgrade the bios before installing a 2nd gen CPU with x370 or b350. The older boards may ship with an updated bios and will be marked as compatible on the box. Older bios’ can have memory compatibility problems as well. I’d probably avoid the b350 boards all together. All 4 of these motherboard chipsets offer overclocking capabilities. All AMD Ryzen CPUs can be overclocked. Be conscious of VRM quality if running an 8 core now or looking to potentially run a 12 core down the road. If stepping up to the 12 or 16 core I’d probably upgrade to a new x570 board unless you buy a flagship x470 board now. These 12 or 16 core parts might actually require the new motherboards. We can’t be 100% sure as of now. In fact we can't be 100% sure the when/if 12 and 16 core models will be released. There is confirmation from reasonably reliable sources that engineering 12 and 16 core samples are circulating motherboard manufacturers. Lisa Su also strongly hinted that they would be releasing CPU's with more than 8 cores at CES. This is a pretty good run down of VRM capabilities on the 400 boards:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-ZwVuH_tinzgpsOdfMvYeCLI5ZbIpnq5fyiWD4NCkkU/edit#gid=229691480

Some of the motherboard vendors have already officially announced 3000 support for some of their motherboards:

https://www.pcgamesn.com/asus/amd-ryzen-3000-motherboard-compatibility-msi

It is unknown if all of the new CPUs will be supported.

For Ryzen CPU’s stick with the 6 and 8 cores. If you can’t afford a new 1600 than buy used. Even then I think a quad core is questionable right now unless it’s a very temporary solution. If you are using a low end GPU or are using the on-board GPU instead of a discrete GPU with a 2200g/2400g this is an exception. The 1600 is $80 with a -$30 motherboard bundle at Micro Center here in the US. The difference between the 1600 and 2600 isn't huge. A few percent IPC improvement and about 200 mhz better clocks at the same power usage/core voltage. It also comes with a way better cooler than a 2600. If you can buy a 1600 for around 40% less I think it’s the better buy. The 1700 and 1700x are worthy considerations as well. Which processor you buy will depend heavily on the pricing available to you. Just don’t expect a huge leap from Ryzen 1000 to Ryzen 2000. You’ll get 200 mhz more clock at the same voltage and a few percentage gain in IPC. If you think you’ll upgrade to Ryzen 3000 when prices drop a 1600 should be fine for a good while. It might not be the best deal in your region however. If you have a micro center near you I wouldn’t even consider any other CPU other than the 1600 right now.

The X chips are generally a bad value vs non x. They offer no significant advantage vs an overclocked non x if configured properly. 1st gen X chips do not include stock coolers which hurts their value if you don’t want to overclock to the max. Both x and non x will require proper setup and stress testing for optimal performance and require an aftermarket cooler for maximum clock speed. Stock coolers are good but using an aftermarket cooler on the non x will likely net more performance than using stock coolers with second gen x chips. A mid-range tower air cooler or 240 AIO should usually max these chips with good temps. Overclocking is very straight forward on Ryzen. Note that using precision boost overdrive and a voltage offset of -100 to -50 MV on the X chips can give slightly higher boost clocks with proper cooling then can be achieved by overclocking the second gen non x. The value proposition once cooling is factored is basically non existent though. Its also easier to achieve max potential with less hassle than standard overclocking. For the more lazy and/or less experienced this approach might be worth while.

What memory should I buy with my new CPU?

Fast Ram helps performance more so on the AMD platform vs Intel. It will benefit both platforms however. 3200 14-14-14-34 kits offer the best performance and overclocking potential for the price. These have Samsung B-die chips. A 2x8 kit costs about $150. Virtually any 3200 kit will do well with Ryzen and Intel. Higher latency cl16 3200 kits are currently available for less than $100. You won’t get more than 2666 on anything unless using a z370/290 motherboard on the Intel platform. A faster RAM kit can still be used at lower speed with tighter timings on b360/b365 motherboards. In general 3000 and 3200 kits are the sweet spot. Be aware of RAM compatibility on the AMD 300 series motherboard chipsets. RAM compatibility is a thing of the past with Ryzen for the most part but you can still run into trouble with older boards and old bios’.
 
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